There have been days at training camp thus far where Jimmy Garoppolo hasn’t looked anywhere near as sharp as Bill Belichick would like him to be.
The New England Patriots lost their preseason opener to the Jacksonville Jaguars on Thursday night, but if you needed any more proof that the preseason is meaningless, look no further than the night Garoppolo put together starting in place of Tom Brady.
Whether it was a matter of shaking off the rust, needing the bright lights of live competition, or receiving an earful from the head coach, Patriots fans had their hopes reaffirmed that Garoppolo remains a more-than-capable backup quarterback – and if disaster strikes, perhaps even a serviceable starter.
Garoppolo completed 22 of 28 passes for 235 yards, throwing a pair of touchdown passes to K.J. Maye and Austin Carr, respectively.
“We went out there and executed, really, it wasn’t anything special,” the quarterback said after the game.
Garoppolo checked every box he needed to, showing accuracy on short, intermediate and deep throws, maintaining poise in a two-minute drill, and perhaps most importantly, not taking any unnecessary hits, a la his shoulder injury vs. Miami in week two last season.
An undeniable chemistry formed between Garoppolo and undrafted rookie wide receiver Austin Carr, who had five catches for 44 yards and a touchdown in the first half.
Carr’s finest catch was on his scoring play, which came on a third-and-goal situation for the Patriots from the Jacksonville 3 yard line. Carr, the reigning Big Ten wide receiver of the year, lined up to Garoppolo’s left and ran a deep in route along the back of the end zone. Garoppolo was flushed from the pocket and scrambled to his off-side left, working his way back toward the middle and firing across his body to Carr, who elevated and came down with the ball to pull New England within a PAT.
“He really went up and got that one for me,” Garoppolo said of Carr.
The catch capped off a nine-play, 76-yard drive for the Patriots that began with 1:52 left in the second quarter and wound the clock all the way down to the 0:14 mark. Garoppolo completed all seven of his passes on the drive, connecting with Maye, Carr, Dion Lewis and Jacob Hollister.
Hollister, who signed with the Pats as an undrafted free agent out of Wyoming in May, had seven catches for 116 yards – both team highs for the game.
Garoppolo played the first drive of the second half under center for New England before being replaced by Jacoby Brissett, who finished 8 for 13 for 88 yards, not throwing a touchdown or an interception.
Kicker Stephen Gostkowski was 1 for 2 on field goals, drilling a kick from 43 yards out but missing left and low from 56.
Cyrus Jones, a second round pick for the Patriots in 2016, fell victim to the deep ball twice while lined up at cornerback – each time to backup quarterbacks for the Jaguars.
Second stringer Chad Henne dialed up Keelan Cole, who torched Jones in one-on-one coverage on the outside for a 97-yard touchdown pass with 9:03 to go in the second quarter.
Third string quarterback Brandon Allen exposed Jones again in the third quarter, hitting Dede Westbrook in stride for a 79-yard touchdown score to make it 31-17 Jacksonville. Safety Jordan Richards also had a hand in allowing Allen to get wide open downfield, failing to provide help for Jones over the top.
Offensive tackle LaAdrian Waddle also struggled, allowing Yannick Ngakoue to sack Garoppolo on the Patriots’ first possession of the game. Waddle was also responsible for Garoppolo’s exit from the pocket on his touchdown toss to Carr.
Brissett had multiple chances to put the Patriots in a position to tie the game on their final possession, but threw three consecutive incomplete passes. His latter two throws sailed out of the end zone altogether.
“I’ll just go back to my mechanics and work on that, and next time I’ll hit it,” Brissett said.
Two injuries of note during the game for New England included Deatrich Wise Jr., the team’s fourth round pick in this April’s draft, as well as second-year linebacker Elandon Roberts. Wise was kneed in the back of the head on a play in the first half and left the field under his own power, but did not return. Roberts exited with an injury in the third quarter.
A laundry list of stars did not play for the Patriots, with Brady headlining the list.
Julian Edelman, Rob Gronkowski, Brandin Cooks, Chris Hogan, Malcolm Mitchell and Danny Amendola were absent as targets for Garoppolo in the passing game.
Matthew Slater, Shea McClellin, Eric Rowe, Mike Gillislee, Nate Solder, Dont’a Hightower, Alan Branch, Tony Garcia and Matt Lengel also did not dress for New England.
The Patriots will conduct joint practices with another team next week – this time, the Houston Texans – in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, in advance of the team’s preseason game next Saturday in Houston.